When we last tuned in to the adventures or misadventures of the post-Plimpton Paris Review, the Board of Directors had announced that they would not renew the contract of editor Brigid Hughes. Hughes by all accounts had been trying to keep the prestigious but not popular journal steered as near as possible to the trail her mentor George Plimpton had blazed for it. On the news of her certain departure, observers speculated that the board had different ideas about little matters like circulation and profitability, and were taking delayed advantage of the power vacuum left by Plimpton’s death to remake the Review as a more relevant and remunerative publication.
At the time, all of this reminded me powerfully of something. But I didn’t figure out what it was until this week: the opening scenes of an 1894 short story by Henry James, “The Death of the Lion.” The story is freely available for downloading here. “The Death of the Lion” is narrated by the right-hand man of the recently deceased editor of a London weekly that has been taken over by a Mr. Pinhorn (is there anyone who is better at names than James at his best?). Mr. Pinhorn is all about the numbers.
Mr. Pinhorn was my “chief,” as he was called in the office: he had accepted the high mission of bringing the paper up. This was a weekly periodical, and had been supposed to be almost past redemption when he took hold of it. It was Mr. Deedy who had let it down so dreadfully–he was never mentioned in the office now save in connection with that misdemeanour. Young as I was I had been in a manner taken over from Mr. Deedy, who had been owner as well as editor; forming part of a promiscuous lot, mainly plant and office-furniture, which poor Mrs. Deedy, in her bereavement and depression, parted with at a rough valuation. I could account for my continuity only on the supposition that I had been cheap. I rather resented the practice of fathering all flatness on my late protector, who was in his unhonoured grave; but as I had my way to make I found matter enough for complacency in being on a “staff.” At the same time I was aware that I was exposed to suspicion as a product of the old lowering system. This made me feel that I was doubly bound to have ideas, and had doubtless been at the bottom of my proposing to Mr. Pinhorn that I should lay my lean hands on Neil Paraday. I remember he looked at me as if he had never heard of this celebrity, who indeed at that moment was by no means in the middle of the heavens; and even when I had knowingly explained he expressed but little confidence in the demand for any such matter. When I had reminded him that the great principle on which we were supposed to work was just to create the demand we required, he considered a moment and then rejoined: “I see; you want to write him up.”
Pinhorn, we learn, has turned a genteel journal into a glorified gossip rag. Under Deedy the journal appears to have been mainly critical; Pinhorn has turned it into a fin-de-si